Customer Collaboration

Do you find that you are committing to deadlines knowing that they are unrealistic? Does your development team have a relationship with the customer? Is your customer directly involved in your process?

The Agile Manifesto says.

“customer collaboration over contract negotiation”

I interpret this as involving your customer directly in your product development life-cycle. It means your customer is a part of your team.

I spent some time with a customer recently and I showed them the product backlog.  They were asking about dates and visibility into when something will get done.  I said these are the priorities I currently have lined up based on overall customer value and needs. You could see that their priorities were down a little ways in the product backlog. The customer’s response to seeing the backlog was similar to, “so this is the black-hole that everything goes into.” While said jokingly, I knew that there was some truth to this. The customer wasn’t involved enough in our process. We weren’t collaborating in an ideal way.  This was a failure on my part and I needed to improve this starting from this day forward.

This customer is now looped into my sprint reviews and they know where to view my product backlog.  They can clearly see where their work is in the product development cycle at all times. They are also included in some of my product backlog refinement sessions for feedback on user stories and customer needs as we refine items into more consumable items for the development team.

One of the three pillars in Scrum is transparency. The Scrum Guide states, “Significant aspects of the process must be visible to those responsible for the outcome. Transparency requires those aspects be defined by a common standard so observers share a common understanding of what is being seen.” This common understanding is key so that all those involved are seeing the same things and collaborating together rather than negotiating.

The Scrum Guide also states in regards to artifacts including the product backlog that, “Scrum’s artifacts represent work or value to provide transparency and opportunities for inspection and adaptation. Artifacts defined by Scrum are specifically designed to maximize transparency of key information so that everybody has the same understanding of the artifact.” Everyone is therefore on the same page. Their is a visible mutual understanding of where the team is and what they are working on.

Transparency grows trust with your employees and customers; it also enables collaboration by showing rather than hiding. Hiding the process, priorities, work, etc. will most likely lead to a contract negotiation and a push method rather than a pull method.

Be transparent and collaborate with your customers. Invite them to meet the team and work directly with your team. Let them be a part of the team.

What has been your experience with customer collaboration vs. contract negotiation?

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